Tag Archives: Ewan McGregor

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Tale as old as 1991, close as it can be.

The live-action adaptation of the 1991 animated film Beauty and the Beast is real, and it’s spectacular. I’ve never really been fond of feature-length animated films, so naturally I was keen to check out the live-action version of the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. My kids really wanted to see it too.

Basically, if you like the original, you’ll like this version. Beauty and the Beast follows the animated film very closely, from all the characters to the plot points to the songs, with only a handful of things added to give the story an extra dimension. Given that it’s a timeless, universal tale, the adaptation doesn’t lose anything in terms of the appeal of the story, and with CGI as good as it is  now, the look of the Beast and the enchanted household appliances are generally good enough to get by.

This review, therefore, really comes down to what brings the live-action to life, which are the performances of the actors and the special effects. Yes, director Bill Condon (Dream Girls, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Parts 1 &2) and writers Stephen Chbosky (Perks of Being a Wallflower) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (The Huntsman: Winter’s War) played big roles, but let’s face it—a lot of other talented people in Hollywood probably could have produced something very similar.

For me, the clear standout was the villain Gaston, played wonderfully by Luke Evans. I didn’t think Gaston was all that memorable in the animated version, though here Evans makes Gaston a charismatic and insufferable douche who hits all the right notes in both performance and song. Alongside Gaston was enamored sidekick LeFou, played by Josh Gad, who I haven’t been a huge fan of but admit was great for this role. More on him later. Oh, and it’s always good to see Kevin Kline on screen, this time as Maurice, Belle’s protective father.

No complaints either in terms of the household appliances, played by the biggest stars of the movie. You’ve got Sir Ian McKellen as clock Cogsworth, Ewan McGregor as candelabra Lumiere, Stanley Tucci as harpsichord Maestro Cadenza, Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as feather duster Plumette. All of them deliver voice performances that bring gravitas to the film without overshadowing the leads.

Speaking of the leads, I must say Emma Watson would not be my first choice for Belle, and I stand by that statement having watched her performance, which is passable but not fantastic. For me, she still had too many shades of Hermione in her expressions and delivery, but to be fair to her I am not as critical of her singing voice, which sounded fine to me. She’s not a broadway legend like Paige O’Hara, so you can’t expect her to sing like one. Let’s just say Watson was good as Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone were in La La Land.

By contrast, I give a big thumbs up to Dan Stevens as the Beast. He must have had some computer help with his voice, but for the most part he gets the sounds perfect. And I have no complaints about his motion capture work. The Beast, whose look and sound I had worried about prior to the film’s release, turned out to be all right.

That said, I found some of the CGI for the Beast a little bit off 100%. Sometimes it’s in the facial expressions, sometimes it’s the hair, and sometimes it was the way he walked and moved. I may be nitpicking but when films like Rise/Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and The Jungle Book are so flawless you know they could have done better.

These few minor quibbles aside, Beauty and the Beast is a solid and faithful live-action adaptation of a beloved classic. It’s certainly better than Maleficent, though I felt like it lacked the freshness of Kenneth Branagh’s 2015 live-action version of Cinderella, which came across as a different experience. This was a safer, more direct, by-the-book adaptation, and there’s nothing wrong with that when the original is so good. Even though I knew everything that was going to happen I still had fun with it, though I think the film could have been elevated to another level with a slightly different take on the material.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: Don’t get and don’t care about the so-called “controversies”—LeFou being gay (big effing deal) and Belle being a victim of Stockholm syndrome (get a life, it’s based on a freaking fairy tale).

Mortdecai (2015)

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I was curious as to just how bad Mortdecai is — so, as any idiot would do, I watched it. Well, all I can say is that critics and audiences weren’t lying when they declared it one of the worst movies of 2015, and likely the nadir of Johnny Depp’s career. After this embarrassing performance, the former two-time “Sexiest Man Alive” is now officially just “Man Alive”.

Based on the British novels of the same name that few are familiar with, Mortdecai tells the silly adventures of the eponymous aristocrat (Depp), who runs into financial troubles and strikes a deal with a detective (Ewan McGregor), who is in love with his wife (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) to assist recover a stolen painting in return for 10% of the insurance money. And so begins a bunch of criminally unfunny stunts as Mortdecai and his tough man-servant, literally named Jock Strapp (Paul Bettany), set about trying to locate the whereabouts of the painting while saving his marriage and fighting off goons.

The whole feel of Mortdecai is one of a bad sitcom. It’s supposed to be light and tongue-in-cheek, but there is simply no charm or wit to be found. Depp has done the eccentric character thing for so long now, but he’s generally been able to find the right balance between character and caricature. Without anything to cover him up except for a badly glued-on moustache (which is actually one of the running gags in the film because he thinks it looks good, much to the chagrin of his wife), Depp delivers a shockingly pathetic performance that makes his acting in The Tourist seem Oscar-worthy. At times I wondered whether he gave a shit at all about this film.

Throw in Gwyneth generally amplifying her unlikableness, Bettany embarrassing himself with his laughably lame character, and Ewan McGregor not really doing much of anything, Mortdecai struggles to eke out even one funny joke. There  wasn’t a single joke in the film I found funny, and I doubt this was just a mood thing — I don’t think I could have found it funny no matter how I was feeling, which was actually being ready to be pleasantly surprised by this movie. Instead, it was worse than I had feared. From the very beginning I was already like, Oh no, so this is the tone they’re going with? This is going to be the annoying, over-the-top character Depp is going to be playing for the entire movie?

I won’t lie — I lost interest pretty quickly and never got it back, even when Olivia Munn popped up for a little bit as the nympho daughter of a potential buyer of the painting. The film was just flat all the way through, and it was one repetitive gag after another, all with the same cheeky, spoofy tone, but without any punch to the jokes. With no character to root for, silly action sequences and a meandering plot, Mortdecai soon became unbearable.

I wanted to see the film and say it’s not really that bad. But it is. I almost felt bad for these supposedly good actors embarrass themselves by appearing in what is meant to be a comedy, but I felt much worse for myself having sat through this shithouse movie.

1 star out of 5

2014 Movie Blitz: Part IX

This could be the last blitz before my best of and worst of list for 2014.

St Vincent (2014)

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I was pleasantly surprised by this one. It’s a simple premise we’ve seen countless times — a grumpy old man befriends a youngster, and they each end up learning something profound from the unconventional relationship. But in this case, the superb cast led by Bill Murray, doing what he does best, makes St Vincent a funny, poignant movie that won’t blow you away but will have you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside by the time the credits start rolling.

Murray plays the titular Vincent, a mysterious, reclusive old man with a sharp tongue and sharper attitude. Struggling single mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her 12-year-old son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) move in next door, and Vincent, almost by accident, starts teaching Oliver the ways of life. Naomi Watts plays Vincent’s Russian “lady friend.”

Murray has turned his grumpy, deadpan face down to perfection, and it’s on full display in this film. It’s a shame we don’t see him much in movies these days because the man is a true comedy genius. It was also good to see Melissa McCarthy play a straight character for once and doing it so well. She’s much more than just a stock character — you really feel for her — and she has great chemistry and timing with Murray when they’re engaged in one of their hilarious spats.

I thought Naomi Watts was a bit of A strange casting choice for her character, but apart from that St Vincent ticks all the right boxes for a touching and funny drama parents can enjoy with their kids (I’d say 12 and above).

3.5 stars out of 5

The Drop (2014)

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This is one of those gritty and brooding crime dramas that’s neither forgettable nor particularly memorable. I thought it was pretty decent because of a smart script, confident direction, and strong performances from the brilliant Tom Hardy and the legendary James Gandolfini in one of his final roles.

Basically, the plot revolves around Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy), a bartender who works a bar run by Gandolfini’s character, Cousin Marv. Marv used to own the establishment but sold it to Chechen gangsters, and now the bar is a “drop” point for illegal funds. Later, a robbery sets the story in motion, and Bob finds himself being targeted by both the cops and the robbers.

Much of the story centres Bob’s relationship with a neighbourhood girl played by Noomi Rapace and a dog. It’s one of those films where you feel as though something is brooding and tension is always building, but you’re not sure of where it is all heading.

The cast is superb, especially Hardy, who is a man of few words but conveys many emotions just from looks and expressions, yet it is often difficult to figure out exactly what is going through his head.

It’s a violent film that doesn’t necessarily shy away from crime drama cliches but is still clever and different enough to distinguish itself from the pack.

3.5 stars out of 5

By the Gun (2014)

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By comparison to the film above, By the Gun is a much weaker and forgettable crime drama. Ben Barnes plays Nick Tortano, a low-level mobster who wants to “be someone.”

So he works under a Boston crime boss played by Harvey Keitel, starts dating his estranged daughter (Leighton Meester) and recklessly gets himself into a lot of shit as he tries to make a name for himself. Something’s gotta give!

I like Ben Barnes. He’s one of the prettiest actors around and he’s a stage actor who can clearly act. But as hard as he tried, he didn’t convince me here as a Boston gangster. Maybe that’s why he’s stuck with roles like Prince Caspian and high-profile flops like Dorian Gray and Seventh Son.

By the Gun has enough grit but not enough originality to sustain its 109-minute running time. I didn’t care much for the characters nor their predicaments, and when that happens a crime drama is destined for failure. It’s not poorly made, it’s just so average that you start to forget about it as soon as the credits roll.

2.5 stars out of 5

Son of a Gun (2014)

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So many guns in this movie review blitz! Son of a Gun is a fairly compelling Australian crime drama with similar themes to the masterful Animal Kingdom. It’s not as good, of course, but by Aussie movie standards it’s not bad.

Rising star Brenton Thwaites, who is just everywhere these days, plays JR, a young convict who becomes acquainted with a notorious robber played by Ewan McGregor. Upon his release, JR is introduced to a mob boss, this beginning a life of crime where the stakes continue to be escalated and things spiral out of control before JR realises he is in way over his head.

Like Animal Kingdom, this is a crime drama seen from the point of view of a naive man-child, learning the brutalities of the world with one frightening lesson after another. It’s a twisted coming-of-age story of sorts, filled with thumping violence and rounded characters.

It’s unfair beyond that to compare the two films. Son of a Gun isn’t on the same level in terms of tension, intensity and plot or character development, and it’s much less effective at veering away from genre cliches, especially as the film nears its finale.

What does give it extra brownie points are the performances of McGregor, still one of the most reliable actors around, and rising superstar Alicia Vikander (who has like five movies out this year), who brings more depth than one would expect for a supposed token female love interest. I’m still waiting to see though why Thwaites, as solid as he is, is snapping up so many roles in Hollywood.

On the whole, Son of a Gun struggles to separate itself from similar films in the genre the way Animal Kingdom did, but thanks to the awesomeness of Ewan McGregor and Alicia Vikander, it manages enough appeal to drag it over the line in my books.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Jack the Giant Slayer (2013) (2D)

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My first impression of Jack the Giant Slayer, just from the title alone, was that it was going to suck. I had imagined it to be another lame Hollywood attempt to cash in on a popular fairy tale, in the vein of recent bombs such as Red Riding Hood, Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, and so forth.

But then I discovered that it stars Nicholas Hoult, probably still best known for playing the kid in About a Boy, but has since shot to fame with X-Men: First Class, Warm Bodies, and being Jennifer Lawrence’s ex-boyfriend. The rest of the cast is great too, with Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci and Ian McShane all playing key roles. Importantly, it’s directed by Bryan Singer (X-Men, Superman Returns, Valkyrie, X-Men: First Class), whose cinematic style, visual flair and knack for action I have always appreciated.

I’m glad to say I checked it out in the end, because Jack the Giant Slayer, for all its faults, is by far the best of the recent fairy tale movies mentioned above. The film knows its limits and sticks to what can it can do best, which is loads of giant action, battle scenes, likable characters and a simple but familiar story line about a boy growing into an unlikely hero.

The story needs little explanation. In a magical land which according to legend was once ruled by giants, Jack (Hoult), a farm boy comes across some special beans. A princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) disappears and Jack joins a search team headed by King’s guard Elmont (McGregor) and adviser Lord Roderick (Tucci), the princess’s future husband. You can fill in the gaps.

The light romance and the straightforward humour in this film work because they don’t overwhelm the engaging and often clever action, the special ingredient that elevates Jack the Giant Killer above your average CGI flick. The final battle sequence, in particular, is as exciting as anything I’ve seen so far this year.

On the downside, I suppose the CGI could have been stronger, given that Singer chose to animate the giants entirely with computer graphics as opposed to “enlarging” real actors with special effects. My guess is because he wanted to make the giants less human, with long, dangly limbs, weird faces and various deformities. They looked more like beautifully rendered video game characters than “real” giants, but perhaps I’m asking for too much.

Hoult, with his lanky, boyish charisma, looks like he is ready to be a major star. While he doesn’t carry the film he is the one who keeps the film rolling. Tomlinson is a great match for him as Princess Isabelle, while McGregor and Tucci are always two guys you would welcome in any movie. Ian McShane, whom some might recognise as Blackbeard from the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, provides both laughs and stoicism in his role as King Brahmwell. As for the giants, the most memorable one is played via motion capture by two veteran stars — Bill Nighy and John Kassir (the Crypt Keeper from Tales From the Crypt!!!).

To sum things up, Jack the Giant Slayer is an enjoyable popcorn movie that should appeal to kids and adults who just want a bit of escapist fun for a couple of hours. It’s not special and certainly not memorable, but considering how badly it could have gone I’d call it both a formulaic success and a pleasant surprise.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: I have to admit that I only knew there was the fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk and had no idea that there was also a closely related one called Jack the Giant Killer. Jack the Giant Slayer is loosely based on a combination of both.

China DVD Movie Blitz: Part II

Yes, there is a Part II.  For Part I, click here.

Here are the rest of the DVD movies I acquired in a recent trip to China.

Stone (2010)

Even though I didn’t know what it was about, I really wanted to watch this one when it came out at the cinemas, but I’m glad now that I caught it on DVD instead.

I thought it was going to be a smart, slick thriller, but Stone is essentially a character-driven drama about sexual politics featuring three sensational actors: Edward Norton, Robert De Niro and Milla Jovovich.

It’s a stylish film, an interesting film in many respects, but not exactly what I was expecting or hoping for.

3.25 stars out of 5

I Love You, Phillip Morris (2009)

It seems like the world still isn’t ready for a rom-com about a homosexual couple, because I had never heard of I Love You, Phillip Morris despite the fact that it features two big stars in Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor.

To be fair, apart from the intentionally full on gay jokes, Phillip Morris is not all that different from some of the other slightly farcical, somewhat strange/awkward (The Cable Guy comes to mind) comedies out there.

I did find certain parts quite funny, but there wasn’t anything apart from the unusual premise that made this film stand out.  And it did get a little tedious towards the end.

3 stars out of 5

 

Gulliver’s Travels (2010)

I’ve loved the story since I was a kid, and so I was kind of excited about the Jack Black version, even though to me Black is a bit of a hit and miss comedian.

Unfortunately, Gulliver’s Travels was pretty much all miss.  It had a great cast, including Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Amanda Peet and Billy Connolly, but the jokes were mostly infantile and unfunny.  A fair attempt at a modern retelling with updated pop culture references but even as a children’s film it missed the mark.

2 stars out of 5

 

Season of the Witch (2011)

 

If this film made it to the cinemas then it must have been pulled off pretty quickly, because even though I saw ‘coming soon’ posters months ago, I don’t ever recall seeing the film screening at cinemas.

After watching it, I can kind of understand why this film was a flop (or went straight to DVD).  On the other hand, there are far worse films making it to the cinemas.

This was a Middle-Ages fantasy film (which I usually like) with Nicholas Cage and Ron Perlman as two warriors tasked with escorting a suspected witch to a monastery.  It started off okay but the middle section was a bit of a bore and the final part, as usual, fell apart.  A shame, because as uninspiring as it was, I thought there was some potential.

2 stars out of 5

 

And yes, there will be a Part III, though I haven’t watched them yet.

In-Flight Movie Reviews (Part II)

(For Part I, click here)

This second part of my in-flight movie reviews rounds up the remaining 3 films I saw during my flights between Australia, Hong Kong and India.  As with the last set, please keep in mind that I was under the influence of prescription medication when I watched these films.

The Ghost Writer

A smart little political thriller directed by Roman Polanski (didn’t know and it gave me a shock when the credits rolled) and starring Ewan McGregor (who once again proves he is one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood), Olivia Williams, Pierce Brosnan and Kim Cattrall.

Brosnan plays a former British Prime Minister who is writing a memoir on his life and McGregor is assigned as his ghost writer to “polish up” the manuscript after the original ghost writer died under strange circumstances.  There is a mystery to be unraveled as the ghost writer is pulled deeper into the life of the PM, who is falling under increased scrutiny for his actions during several recent wars.

It’s a very interesting film, fictionalized, of course, but with touches of reality and topical issues. Apart from the ghost writing side of the publishing world we get to see, the thriller also raises some intriguing issues about civil liberties.
Polanski keeps the film simmering on low heat, allowing the tension and suspense to build while never making it too easy for the audience to figure out what is going to happen next.  My kind of film.

4 stars out of 5

Harry Brown


Comparisons to Gran Torino (one of my favourite films last year) are inevitable with this British drama starring Michael Caine as the titular character, an ex-marine who goes Dirty Harry on the local gangs in England.

However, the films are only similar in that the lead is a lonely old man and their neighbourhood is terrorized by local hoons.   Harry Brown is a totally different film because Caine’s character is entirely different to that of Clint Eastwood’s in Gran Torino.

Gran Torino is more about the relationship the protagonist develops with his “gook” (as he liked to call them) neighbours despite his prejudices, while Harry Brown is a more straightforward, ‘lethal old man pushed to the edge’ kind of violent drama.  Both are effective in their own ways, but Harry Brown isn’t quite as effective because there’s a feel of inevitability about it – you just knew what was going to happen and where the film was heading.

It’s nevertheless a compelling film to watch primarily because of Caine’s performance and the excellent depiction of the horrific world of British teen gangs, but Harry Brown lacks the subtlety and nuance to take the film to the next level.

3.5 stars out of 5

PS: And unless I am grossly mistaken about the advancement of forensic science in the UK, there are some major loopholes in this film.

The Book of Eli


I wanted to see this one since it was released at the cinemas but I never got around to it.  Without giving too much away, the story is set in a post-apocalyptic world (aren’t they all these days?) where a mysterious man called Eli (Washington) is trekking across the barren plains with a special book in his possession.  Gary Oldman plays the bad guy (doesn’t he always?) who wants the book at all costs, and Mila Kunis is a feisty girl who gets caught up in the mess.

The synopsis sounds much worse than the film really is, but it’s just a fun action film that takes itself a little too seriously.  I can understand if some people think the whole thing is a piece of crap, especially after they find out why the book is so special, but it managed to keep my attention all the way until the end, where there are a few unexpected twists and turns.

Look, it’s not a masterpiece and it’s far too uneven to be a great film, but when all is said and done The Book of Eli is not a bad way to spend a couple of hours on a plane.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)

The Men Who Stare at Goats is one of those light, quirky, darkly amusing comedies very loosely based on real events.  It features an all-star cast including George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey.  It’s enjoyable, fascinating, and in no way meant to be taken seriously.  It’s not memorable, and is unlikely to win any awards, but it’ll give you a laugh and a good time for 94 minutes.

The film is told through the eyes of Ewan McGregor’s Bob Wilton, a journalist who ends up stumbling across the story of a lifetime – the US army’s attempts to develop psychic spies with super powers.  Yes, the US military actually tried to do this (and who knows, may still be trying to do this)!

You could be forgiven for thinking that The Men Who Stare at Goats is a Coen brothers movie in the vein of The Big Lebowski and Burn After Reading.  It has that quirky feel from start to finish; you wonder what the heck is happening and what might happen next.  Every character Bob Wilton comes across is fascinating and hilarious, especially Lyn Cassady, perfectly played by the “so serious it’s funny” George Clooney.

But actually, The Men Who Stare at Goats is written by Peter Straughan (How to Lose Friends and Alienate People), loosely based on the book of the same name by Jon Ronson.  It’s directed by Grant Helsov, who hasn’t done much directing and is more of an actor.  Hopefully Helsov will have more opportunities to direct after this film.

Anyway, there’s nothing particularly outstanding about the film.  It’s constantly amusing, but the big laughs are less frequent.  That said, it is clever, and somehow manages to stand on the fence when it comes to psychics.  The movie doesn’t endorse them as genuine, but it doesn’t exactly ridicule them as frauds either.  It does, however, suggest they may all be crazy!  My favourite thing about the whole film is that it makes constant references to Star Wars, especially because it stars young Obi-Wan Kenobi himself!

3.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: and yes, goats are stared at in this movie]

Movie Review: Angels & Demons (2009)

Angels and Demons

Yesterday I saw Angels & Demons, you know, the highly anticipated follow-up to the controversial (and hugely successful) The Da Vinci Code, also adapted from the novel of the same name written by Dan Brown.

After the somewhat modest reactions to the The Da Vinci Code (which I actually think deserved more credit), my expectations were held in check this time.  Another good thing is that it had been so long since I read the book that I had kind of forgotten what it was all about.  Consequently, I was pleasantly surprised.  It was fun, exciting, and the pieces came together at the right moments.

In short, it was a vast improvement on the first film and I totally enjoyed it!

Background

Angels & Demons the book is a prequel to The Da Vinci Code, but the movie is filmed as a sequel (and there are several references to the events of the first film in the opening scenes).  As per my review etiquette, I won’t divulge plot details, but given the success of the novel, it’s safe to assume most people at least have an idea of what it is about.   All I will say is that, like its predecessor, Angels & Demons is heavily influenced by religious themes and involves a desperate race against time that leads to a lot of running around.  Whereas The Da Vinci Code was set predominantly in Paris, Angels & Demons leads you through a breath-taking adventure through the various attractions and sights of Rome and Vatican City.

Action, action and more action

Dan Brown’s novels are known to unveil at neck-breaking pace.  However, unlike the book, many felt that The Da Vinci Code movie was, frankly, a bit of a bore.  Angels & Demons doesn’t suffer from the same problem because it’s made as more of a popcorn movie with full-throttle action right from the beginning, rarely pausing to catch its breath.

The difference is in the adaptationThe Da Vinci Code movie was bogged down by the need to fully explain its complex conspiracy theories, and despite doing so very well (and innovatively), it led to dull patches that killed the momentum.  Director Ron Howard certainly learned his lesson, because even though the plot and theories of Angels & Demons also require a fair amount of explanation, this time they did it right – by giving you the essentials upfront and then feeding you bits of information at a time so that the pace never sags for very long and things are kept moving.

Though I couldn’t recall much from the book, Ron Howard definitely changed or deliberately left out certain parts of the storyline in the film – and I think it was for the better.  To be honest, the conspiracy theories in Angels & Demons sounded pretty silly when transformed from the page to the big screen (and coming from me that says a lot because I tend to believe in a lot of that stuff), so I felt it was a smart choice to leave the emphasis off all of that and focus on keeping the foot on the gas pedal.  There’s probably another reason why they decided to do it, but I won’t say because it may lead to a potential spoiler.  Nevertheless, the end product was much closer in style and pace to the novel than The Da Vinci Code was, and therein lies the biggest contrast between the two films.

Cast

The mullet is gone
The mullet is gone

Terrific all-star cast.

Of course, Tom Hanks returned as professor Robert Langdon, sans the infamous mullet from last time (I still think the new hairdo is a FAIL, just not an EPIC FAIL – perhaps he needs sideburns or something).  Hanks clearly got into good shape to portray the character, as evident from his very first scene, but there was still some awkwardness to him.  Maybe he just wasn’t the right choice for Langdon, but it’s too late now because like it or not the character will forever be associated with the actor.

The big upgrade was Ayelet Zurer (Israeli actress best known from Munich – the film not the city), who portrays the scientist/sidekick to Hank’s Langdon.  As much as I like Audrey Tautou (from The Da Vinci Code), Zurer’s chemistry with Hanks was so much better, and she more than holds her own in the film.

I was glad to see Ewan McGregor (as the ‘Camerlengo’) again on the big screen after bumping into him in person while vacationing in Berlin.  By the way, he was brilliant in the role.

There were other solid supporting roles too, such as Stellan Skarsgard as Commander Richter of the Swiss Guard and the always trusty Armin Mueller-Stahl as Cardinal Strauss.  Note both names were changed from the novel.

Special Effects

Ron Howard and his special effects team really worked miracles in Angels & Demons, because despite the film being set almost entirely in Rome and Vatican City, the Vatican made it virtually impossible for them to shoot there.  And yet you would have never noticed if no one had told you.

I don’t know how they did it, but it must have involved building full-scale replicas, smaller scale replicas and lots of digital effects.  Really just shows you can pretty much do whatever you want in movies these days (as long as you have the budget).

There were also some other sensational special effects sequences that were done with amazing realism, though I can’t discuss them without spoiling the plot.  You’ll just have to watch it!

Religious Themes

I found it interesting that the Vatican basically condemned this film before it even began shooting.  It probably had a lot to do with the anti-church reputation The Da Vinci Code had developed, but I actually thought that Angels & Demons had a pro-church and pro-faith undercurrent.  Sure, there were some thinly-veiled criticisms of the Catholic Church, but on the whole the film did a decent job of reconciling science and religion, and reminding everyone that religion is, ultimately, a man-made thing that is not perfect.  Perhaps Catholics might even find the film uplifting.  Regardless, I’m sure the boycotts are already in motion.

Dan Brown

Angels & Demons, apart from being a fun action flick, really reminded me of what Dan Brown is capable of. You see all the copycat authors that are out there today and it tends to dilute what Brown accomplished with his two most popular novels.  Seeing the film made me remember how great the storyline was and how brilliant Brown was in being able to link everything together so intricately, making all the pieces fit so perfectly.  A mind-boggling amount of research and thought must have gone into it.  It’s a great example for aspiring writers who want to pen the next international bestseller.  Brown may not be a great (or even good) writer but he’s put a lot of effort into creating these engaging stories.

This has definitely reinvigorated my enthusiasm for Brown’s upcoming new novel, The Lost Symbol, which is coming out this September (s0me preliminary thoughts here).

Final Thoughts

In all, Angels & Demons is a great action film (with a little extra) that doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not.  It’s a movie that caters for a wide audience.

Those that have been to Rome or the Vatican will get a kick out of seeing all those places being used in the film (I had a few ‘remember that place?’ moments myself).  It’s also good for people who haven’t, because it will probably make them want to go now!

I’m sure those who have already read the book will enjoy the film because it is genuinely exciting and captures the thrill ride entailed in the novel.  However, I think those that will like the film most are those who haven’t read the book (and there’s probably not many out there), because they will be even more impressed by the scale of the story and the way the symbols, conspiracies, science, religion, action and storyline is all woven together.

Just go in with an open mind, don’t expect everything to make sense, take the conspiracy theories with a large chunk of salt – and you might be surprised how enjoyable the film can be.

4 out of 5 stars!